Thursday, May 9, 2013

#275 - Poop Showers and Prison Beds

Editor's Note: Glen Post!

A little ditty to brighten your day...

I can only base the following on one facility in one state, my home state, so bare with my narrow scope.

Growing up in the Michigan District UPCI one of the highlights of my adolescence was the two hour drive across the state to the middle of East Jabip somewhere, to the ‘Ol Campground.

A glorious beaut’ she was, settled just between Mayberry and Nowhere. I can’t be downwind of an outhouse today without being taken aback to summers getting shocked by the showerheads, sleeping on rusty beds, and the sweet aroma of Right Guard, Aussie and sweat.

That’s just the beginning of the painting. I’m ‘bout to go Rembrandt in this mother...

Our camp was a little bit Heavens Gate and a lotta bit Auschwitz. It sat on roughly 100 acres in a clearing between some railroad tracks and an old creek. It was built sometime between the invention of indoor plumbing and the founding of the Department of Health, which would explain why they've probably never seen the place.

The dorms are two buildings that are built like X’s with a bathroom at the center. Each arm of the X is its own dorm, with North, South, East and West dorms each housing about 50 kids. The boys and girls are next to each other, though separated by a high tech invention called a Rickety Fence.

Sounds fine right?


These things were built over 50 years ago and I’m pretty sure they filmed Shawshank Redemption in them. The beds were donated by Jackson Prison, which is a hop, skip and belly crawl away. Yeah you read that right, the prison there donates to the church because having rapists sleep on those sharp, rusty, chlamydia soaked beds is just inhumane.

However that’s not the worst. The bathrooms. After years of countless conversations about them, I'm almost at a loss for what to say. Almost. 

Fact: The bathrooms are like a Mexican jail, with less luxuries. 
Fact: Enjoy el Prision de Mexico. 

The pipes and septic tank were installed when the place was built (60 years ago). They’re installed in a part of the country that sits below freezing for seven months out of the year, with routinely record snowfalls, torrential storms, all hitting this facility while it sits vacant. Then, it goes from vacant to overrun for about 2-3 months with constant use, if not abuse. The plumbing has become so corroded that after just a few days of use, the toilets literally can’t flush. This means the clogging of the century in the the dorms as well as the tabernacle. The showers in the dorms are lined up with one community drain which would routinely clog when one of the little prick campers thought it would be hilarious to defecate IN the shower (true story, imagine being the camp counselor when a shaking 14 year old tries to figure out the best way to tell you someone just took a deuce in the shower). And the pooping in showers happened annually. No Joke.

One year so many toilets clogged that our youth president had to go into the stalls with a trash can and a plastic bag on his hand and literally dig crap out of the toilets while simultaneously throwing up in the trash can. And the people running the place think this is acceptable.

I could go pages with disgusting stories of the condition of the grounds but I think that little tidbit gives you the idea.

So, if this is the case and the campers sleep and bathe in squalor where does the bourgeoisie…sorry, Freudian…preachers…where do they sleep? Oh they have renovated, clean, pretty cabins that the campers aren’t allowed to go to. (Seriously, if they do an old guy on a 4 wheeler runs them down and drags them back to Skid Row)

But they’re still on the grounds right? Don’t they ever go in and see the conditions?

My first time at camp was when I was 11 years old and it wasn’t until I was 25 and my student pastor basically forced the board to do a walk through that I’d ever seen any of them near the dorms and bathrooms, much less in them.

A few years ago we went from a five-day camp to a three-day camp following the supposed death of some mystery girl in another state somewhere. The reason cited was that she had stayed up all week and had to drive home tired, fell asleep and crashed. I hope this isn’t true and if it is it’s terrible. So after the tragedy we changed the schedule, sending kids home on Friday morning so they wouldn't fall asleep driving. That same year I was told that the real reason for the switch was that five-day camps require a health inspection and three-day camps can somehow circumvent this rule, or at least require a less thorough one.

The implications: It's like cleaning up your room by sweeping everything under your bed in hopes that when your parents walk by with an inspection, they won't bother to actually walk in the room since they don't have reason for concern.

I may be wrong, but I doubt it. So I encourage any readers to comment with how many days your Senior High Camps are just so we can see if there’s consistency. Either way it was mentioned either as the reason or a fringe benefit. Ew.

We hoped that change would come. We hoped that at the end of the yearly camp season the grandiose fundraising effort that took place for camp improvements would actually accomplish what it set out every time to do. The “who will pledge $____” for a generator, a new septic tank, new dorms, dorm renovations, an overflow tent, etc were regular. So we hoped...

However, despite the seemingly successful offerings every year we never saw any money raised actually come to fruition. I was present for the septic tank offering, the new bathrooms, the tent and the generator, but none of this ever came. Even though all the money was pledged.

We did see $25K spent on a glorified jungle gym under the guise of some kind of exercise equipment, because kids go to camp to get ripped apparently. We saw another $50K spent on a ‘Hall of Faith’, aka foyer because what good is a church if there isn’t a big room to socialize and sell ostentatious crap during the preaching?

It was decided one year that enough money had been raised for some bathroom improvements. The improvements? Well, the church handymen got together and decided that putting new toilets on ancient plumbing would help. Guess what? It didn't.

The next genius improvement was decided because there was a 3 foot opening between the bathrooms and dorms. In lieu of this campers could see each other going between the dorms and bathrooms after showering. Since the decision-makers believe we still live in the 40's and horny teenagers don't know what shoulders and knees look like from 50 yards off, a decision was made to build changing rooms in the bathrooms. So, wisely, in the hottest and most humid rooms in Southwest Michigan were built wooden changing rooms. Wood. In a hot, continually wet, place. Brilliant.

The most obvious answer to why the fundraised money was never spent on it's intended purpose is that not enough money was collected. People go pledge all happy-pants when there's an organ thumping a G-Major (apo's love key changes), but forget to check their balance before pledging half their liquid worth. That's not the camp leadership's fault, but waiting for Pastor Billy-Jo's check to arrive, much less clear, is a bad long term economic strategy.

I don’t believe anyone embezzled or stole money from these fundraising efforts. I spent a lot of time at camp and I can tell you the people who run it love camp. They bleed for it. They spend as much time as they possibly can there. They're some of the most diligent, kindest, most dedicated men you'll ever meet. They're full of integrity, they're consistent and they love the kids they work for. They have good intentions and do their best.

But their best isn't good enough.

About eight years ago my church built a new building. They wanted to be smart about their money and the management of the facilities so they formed a committee of a few business owners in the church. Not preachers, pastors or ministers, but business owners. One is a very successful owner of a company who started entry level and advanced to the point that he bought his company. Another owns a successful insurance company. The other one owns malls. Plural. The ministry opened their books and let men who are already successful and experienced with facilities, money and staff management serve as advisors. Instead of thinking “God will tell us what to do with the money,” they humbled themselves and allowed other men with God given talents advise them. And guess what? The place is doing great.

Being a pastor does not mean you know money or facilities management. It doesn't mean you’re a bad person or a bad pastor. What makes a bad person and bad pastor is not allowing more qualified people than you to advise your spending decisions regarding a million dollar facility that you’re ill-equipped to manage. Let the preachers preach and the managers manage.

Waiting for the next retiree who knows how to mow a lawn and change a light bulb to move onto the grounds and ‘maintain it’ isn't enough. Camp gets exponentially worse every summer. When is someone going to be granted control who knows what they’re doing? Hiring the bored old guys and the mentally handicapped to come in and paint and patch the dry wall cracks every spring isn't good management. Hire a contractor  Not the guy from your church who used to do construction part time. (I once went to a camp work day and was literally told to go rake in the woods. If that doesn't tell you everything you need to know about the decision making in the place I don't know what would)

For years now I’ve tossed around the idea of waiting for the end of camp season to roll around and calling the Department of Health and Human Services or Child Welfare and sending them over, but my conscience won’t let me. However, anyone who reads this should feel free. Blame me, I don’t care.

The bottom line is that adolescent kids are sent to church camp every summer and they spend their days begging a PK friend to let them use their shower so they won’t be ankle deep in crap and that’s absolutely unacceptable. It’s time for the leaders to realize they’ll still be leading, even if they’re leading in someone more qualified to audit the grounds.

If you are, or you know, a parent sending a child to the Michigan District Campgrounds this summer you and/or they need to make some serious inquiries as to the conditions your children will be subjected to. Go there and see it for yourself, when dropping off and picking up. Take pictures. Have them take pictures. These conditions have somehow come to be accepted as normal. The kids don't speak up because they assume it's supposed to be the way it is. The adults that see it have gotten used to it. Parents end up unaware of the squalor their kids spend a week or two in. Start asking some questions.

Monday, May 6, 2013

#274-The Pray Cry

ApoPento's excel at many fine activities in comparison to other Christians. One of them is crying. We love crying. We need it. It's an addiction. There are five times as many criers per capita within the UPC as there are in other denominations. Some call this the work of the Holy Ghost that other denominations do not experience because they don't have the Holy Ghost. Other, more optimistic people, call the excessive crying "catharsis." Others call this "being a cry baby."

I call it: Being a cry baby with a Purpose!

Feeling bad? How about an altar cry?
Feeling good? Dance, and then cry after excessive energy use.
Have you heard a song that says God wants to kiss you? Have a cry.
Minor chords in the worship song? Close your eyes, look up to the ceiling and have a cry.
Did you touch someone else inappropriately? Have an altar cry.
Did someone touch you inappropriately? Have an altar cry and then blame the dude.
Did you get caught doing something that gets you kicked off the platform? Have an altar cry.
Are you a pastor? Then Don't cry. Be a man!
Are you an evangelist? Passionately cry during the sermon to get others to have a good altar cry.
Are you a woman? Have a cry.
Are you thrice divorced and possibly crazy? Here's an altar cry for you. Once a week, for three straight months.

I remember being a pentecostal youth. I'd go up to those jungle altar calls scared as heck as what I would encounter. But I also knew that if I didn't up to the Jungle-Call, people would like at me as rebellious, which was the last thing I needed.....

So I'd get real pissy that I didn't know how to play instruments to excuse me from the jungle altar call and then slide, all slowly up to the altar, waiting & knowing exactly what was going to come next....

And Boom! The masses were upon, little, confused me. Praying for my breakthrough.

And in my heart of hearts, I would wonder, what can I do to get these weirdo's off me?

True story.

And so like, what can you do when you're surrounded by the Holy Roman Empire of Altar Calls Heroes? How to get these vampires off you....

You could...

Option A) Dance
Option B) Cry
Option C) Speak in Tongues

The weird thing is all three are not equal.

In fact.... If you were to settle on speaking in tongues, it was expected that you add something else into the mix. Some kind of emotion. Because speaking in tongues without emotion made you seem autistic and psychopathic. So you had to speak in tongues and do something else.

The same goes for dancing. Unless you can dance for like 15 minutes straight. If not, prepare to be bombarded again.

Yet, having a good Pray Cry at the altar was sufficient all in it's own. No need to dance. No need to speak in tongues. Just have yourself a cry there and you'll be good... The altar vampires won't deal with you too long after....

But here's where it gets weird...

I remember being at Youth Congress some years back.... and I was a confused, hurt dude. I had just gotten out of a break-up. And I also remember that being all of 21 years old that I knew needed to grow-up and stop caring so much about break-ups. Yet, I had grown up in a religion that coddled emotions and having emotional outbursts....

She broke up with me on the phone just before the night service.

I was hurt. Didn't tell anyone though. Went through the motions during the service. I don't even remember the sermon or who preached it. But I do remember the altar call.....

And I remember just sitting down in my seat and praying real nice and kinda choking up to God about whatever it was that I thought the service was about......

And badda-bing-badda-boom, five minutes later, I'm having a Pray-Cry.

And by now, a pray-cry thing was not to be expected out of me. Since I was 21 and supposed to be all grown up. And yet there I was having a pray-cry and then these peeps starting surrounding me and I'm all embarrassed because I know deep down that I'm just crying because my heart's overly-reacting to a stupid break-up and yet now all my friends are gathered around me using me as their excuse why they don't have to pray since they're so focused on my pray-cry going on....

And thinking about the whole scene made me cry even more.... In fact, I started bawling... partially out of embarrassment. Partially out of break-up.... and partially just because it felt really really satisfying to have a pray-cry right there at that particular service at Youth Congress.....

And like I'm just bawling...rivers, floods, tsunami's... whatever it was falling out of my eyes, it wasn't healthy.

And I keep going. My shoulders trembling... eyes are a wreck...scary red eyes by now.  Hair's messed up somehow. I was a sight to behold that's for sure.... And by now, that creepy youth pastor I had at the time is even gathered above me using me as his excuse to not worry about his own soul, which at the time, was busy trying to collect all the local apo-pretty girls into his hot-tub back home....

Okay, I'm getting carried away....

I guess my point is: I cried a lot and prayed very little that night. It was probably a good half hour's worth of Cry and it was unacceptable. And the thing was, I was doing it for a myriad of reasons... but if I'm being sincere about that moment, it wasn't just "All about God." In fact God and the sad music were the excuse to "let it all out" from everything that I considered stressful in my life.... Sure it was relieving. But I would be dumb to call that a "life-changing moment where I realized God was calling me...."

Except ....

That's what I did:

Afterwards, I told people that "I felt like God definitely had a strong pull on my life now" as a result of that prayer....

(whatever that means)

And when I got back home after congress, that pervert of a youth pastor bragged to my pastor that I had a real time spent with God deep in prayer.....

And my pastor congratulated me on that time where I bawled my eyes out at Youth Congress during a later altar-call pray-time, which caused me to all of a sudden cry again...

But this time was not because he was right to congratulate me.

Rather it was then, with my pastor congratulating me during that last altar-cry that I realized how insincere this whole pray-cry business was....

I realized our pastors were getting reports on how good or bad we were at youth congress based on whether or not someone cried at the altar, even if that youth congress pray-cry was actually due to stupid immaturity  after a minor break-up.